The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
What is the human spirit? From a Baha’i perspective, our souls reflect our innermost eternal reality – the single element within each of us that will last forever.
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The human spirit, which distinguishes man from the animal, is the rational soul, and these two terms – the human spirit and the rational soul – designate one and the same thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is called the rational soul, encompasses all things and, as far as human capacity permits, discovers their realities and becomes aware of the properties and effects, the characteristics and conditions of earthly things. But the human spirit, unless it be assisted by the spirit of faith, cannot become acquainted with the divine mysteries and the heavenly realities.
Once people of faith realize that religion is about spirit and not merely ideas and rituals, wonderful things start to happen. The Baha’i teachings aim for a whole new definition of what that spirit can mean for the future of humanity. In a speech he gave in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha said:
Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division it would be better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure, but if the remedy only aggravates the complaint, it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.
Some members of the older religions see themselves as foundational for all future ones. For example, a Hindu friend says “to do wrong is bad, to do right is good. This is the essence of all religion.” A Zoroastrian friend told an interfaith gathering that the basis of her faith is “right thought, right word, right deed” and that she considers all people of faith to be Zoroastrians. As a Baha’i who believes that Baha’u’llah has brought the most recent revelation for humankind, I love hearing such comments from my friends. They each emphasize a core Baha’i teaching: the oneness of all religion.
All Faiths Are One
When I learned the concept of oneness and progressive revelation from Baha’u’llah, it put history into perspective for me, showed me the role religion played in human growth and development, and allowed me to see that previous messengers from God have shared profound lessons that were glossed over in my protestant Christian Sunday School upbringing.
The Baha’i teachings explain: God’s truth has been gradually updated and apportioned to humanity according to our needs and capacities. God’s truth is unchanging, whereas humanity constantly goes astray and needs to be reminded, but also needs to receive guidance for moving forward collectively in an increasingly complex global community.
The Reality of the Human Spirit
The reality of spirit, perhaps the most important area of instruction imparted by God’s messengers, offers us a window into eternity. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, described the soul as: “… a sign of God, a heavenly gem whose reality the most learned of men hath failed to grasp, and whose mystery no mind … can ever hope to unravel.” He also said the soul is “… the first among all created things to declare the excellence of its Creator, the first to recognize His glory, to cleave to His truth, and to bow down in adoration before Him.”
The older religions contain much about the soul, which humanity may have internalized while not being consciously aware of such guidance. Today, the Baha’i teachings have shared quite a bit more about the nature of the soul, mind and spirit, including this powerful and mystical description from Abdu’l-Baha: “The spirits of men proceed from God by emanation, in the same way as the discourse proceeds from the speaker and the writing from the writer …”
Through this and other writings, I understand that our spirit, an emanation from God, enters into the world of creation where the human soul serves as the spirit’s vehicle, enabling each individual to become aware of the attributes of God and to make evaluations and choices. We do this through prayer and meditation. In The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah urged every soul to communicate in this way with God: “O son of light! Forget all save Me and commune with My spirit. This is of the essence of My command, therefore turn unto it.”
My path toward understanding this reality began when, as a child, I asked my mother what a conscience is. She explained: it’s that little voice inside which tells you, especially if you ask, when you’re doing right or wrong. I’ve met people who think of that voice as God or Jesus speaking to them, rather than the inner voice of their own spirit. As I grew up, I could see how I wanted to behave socially that was sometimes at odds with that little voice of conscience inside.
The foundations of all the world’s religions contain teachings that explore different perspectives on this reality.